By Terry Cushman — @cushmanMLB
When Dave Dombrowski was brought on to become the President of Red Sox Baseball Ops, we sox fans knew it was the beginning of a new era. The off season free agency market in regards to pitching was as deep as I ever recall. David Price was headlining the market, with other solid choices such as Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmermann.
Greinke had just come off a career year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, posting a 19-3 record, with a jaw dropping 1.66 ERA. Though a sure fire Cy Young candidate, he lost out to Jake Arrieta. While Greinke was certainly in line for a big pay day, Los Angeles couldn’t afford to bring him back. The knock on him was that his past anxiety issues, though treated, could comeback to haunt his team. Especially if it were a big market team. Cueto was also one of MLB’s top pitchers. However, there were rumors his elbow might not be 100% healthy, and he was knocked around in several starts after getting traded to the American League’s Kansas City Royals. Though it wasn’t the contract year a potential ace would want to show off to any prospective future teams, Cueto was very solid in a couple of key post season starts, specifically one start in the World Series. And finally Zimmermann was coming off a fairly successful run with the Washington Nationals, he wouldn’t quite command same lucrative contract as the others, but was an attractive discount option that could provide a lot of stability towards the top of any teams rotation. Especially to a lower budget, small market team.
I personally would have been fine at the time with a Jordan Zimmermann signing IF… IF… it was in conjunction with a trade for an additional ace. For example, the New York Mets had a surplus of top of the rotation starters. Noah Syndergaard was the most attractive pitcher on their staff, but he likely was unrealistic. The asking price would have been too high, and he had too many years of control remaining for the Mets to have the incentive to deal him. Matt Harvey or Jacob DeGromm were a different story. The Red Sox had been linked on and off with Harvey, but nothing panned out. A joint acquisition of Zimmermann and Harvey would have been very attractive. However, as fate would have it, both players suffered season ending injuries. In fact, most of the Mets’ staff chronically dealt with injuries all year long, and had their post season hopes crushed in the NL one game wild card (which is a joke btw). Oakland’s Sonny Gray also had his career worst year in part due to injuries. Jose Fernandez was also dangled by the Marlins, but the Red Sox were unwilling to meet their asking price. Fernandez (rest his soul) is perhaps the best deal the Red Sox never made due to the tragic circumstances that ended Fernandez’ life. 2016 simply wasn’t a good year for any potential pitcher that could have been acquired via trade. Out of all the free agents who were signed, Johnny Cueto had the only good year out of any pitcher mentioned above.
To my dismay, the Red Sox ended up signing David Price. It was a finicky market, but when Dombrowski decides to make a splash, it ends up being big. Price brought tons of baggage with him to Boston. So much baggage, I’m surprised it didn’t cost him his entire $217M contract in baggage fees on which ever plane he arrived on. Half of Red Sox Nation celebrated his signing. The other half of us, myself included, were skeptical on whether or not he could be successful in a market like Boston. But our entire fan base welcomed a big addition to our rotation, which had been lacking for several years.
From the moment his press conference began, I personally was uncomfortable with not only Price’s signing, but the narrative he was setting. Price’s reputation with baseball media has been strained at times. Whether it’s due to his poor big game performances, or himself deflecting speculation of trade talk. Three different markets and their legions of fans had pinned high hopes on Price taking them to the promised land. All three markets experienced failure in varying degrees of horror. Now here he was, a newly signed player in perhaps the most complicated market any elite player could possibly have the pressure of winning in. All of us fans had the tough task of rationalizing with ourselves how this time it would be different. Several times throughout his introductory press conference, Price contradicted himself on how he has always wanted to play in Boston, how the fans were so great, and that he loved our winning culture. Anybody with a decent memory who had seen his previous twitter tirades knew from the very outset that Price was full of shit.
Another notable moment during David Price’s press conference, was when Red Sox owner’s John Henry & Tom Werner held up Price’s new Jersey for the cameras, which is always a signature moment of a big signing. It was only months earlier that Henry, Werner, and Cherington all subtly implied that they had no interest whatsoever in pursuing free agent pitchers over the age of 30 to lucrative long term deals. It was a philosophy they believed so implicitly, they wagered their entire 2015 season with their own theory of how certain pitchers with high ground ball rates would translate to cheaper and successful alternative. So months later when they signed Price, hoisted his jersey, and coughed up an unprecedented sum of money, how much more contradictory can you get? Nonetheless, it was an awkward press conference to witness.
Not to sound contradictory myself, but there is actually some merit to their theory of NOT signing pitchers over the age of 30. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s a terrible idea to pursue POWER pitchers such as Price. However, I will never have a problem pursuing players like Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Rick Porcello. Pitcher’s that only throw in the lower to mid 90’s that feature dominant off speed stuff tend to have longer careers, and better durability. Cliff Lee, and Andy Pettitte also come to mind. They never relied on high velocity to get outs, and to pitch effectively. So many power pitcher’s see their careers fall off in their early to mid 30’s, and most never successfully find ways to adapt once they pass their primes.
Price almost immediately got off on the wrong foot after making his 2016 Red Sox debut. In fact, it couldn’t really have been much worse for him. People are quick to point out that Price won 17 games, but in reality he had the benefit of a highly robust offense to win those games for him. If Price had pitched last year in Tampa Bay as he had most of his career, he might not have even won ten games. After regularly throwing 98mph in the 2015 playoffs only months previously, his fast ball only averaged 91-93 mph. After seven starts, Price was 4-1 with a painful 6.75 ERA. Gradually his average did drop, but he struggled with his mechanics all season long. Most notably it took Dustin Pedroia of all people, not the coaching staff, to discover Price wasn’t lifting his leg early in his delivery as he had throughout his career. Price also gave up the most home runs of any starting pitcher.
As the roller coaster year for the Red Sox lead them into October. Price got the nod for game two, hoping to improve on his 0-7 record as a starter. Price was saying all the right stuff coming into the game, the media was building him up, he knew he had everything to prove, and a giant contract to justify. After only 3 and 1/3 innings, Price had given up five runs, and was removed from the game. The smarter fans saw this coming a mile away. The more naïve fans felt duped. And why wouldn’t they? They spent an entire season believing Price, along with his excuses. As well as the phony narratives the beat writers were selling them. The truth will always come out, and it’s simply that David Price cannot handle pitching in any high pressure situation, let alone Fenway Park.
The most agonizing aspect of Price playing for the Red Sox is his constant whining. As indicated this week in an interview with the Boston Globe, Price has an heir of self entitlement, despite the fact he has earned literally nothing in Boston. Price complained that everything he does off the field doesn’t matter, and all Red Sox fans care about is what Price does on the field. Yet this is the same David Price spent the first few weeks of the off season obsessively taunting Red Sox fans on twitter for bashing him about his playoff record. Price truly believes he’s so far above everyone else, that he believes he can have it both ways.
Perhaps Price should take a closer look at Josh Beckett’s tenure in Boston. Beckett was not very well liked off the field by Red Sox fans, but was tolerated because he often could back it up in the post season, and ultimately as Price points out, winning is in fact all that matters. I would take a prime Josh Beckett instead of a prime David Price any day of the week. I have no confidence in David Price whatsoever when the pressure is on. His signing was a nightmare that Red Sox fans will continue to live over and over for the next several years. He was damaged goods psychologically, and it’s very possible with his recent elbow issues, and season long drop in velocity, that he might be goods physically.
Signing a player to a city like Boston who lacks of mental toughness that Price does, makes about as much sense as sending someone with PTSD to a showing of “Apocalypse Now” at the theaters. It’s never a good idea.